All-College Meeting goes virtual, shares optimism for a ‘modified’ fall semester

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker
Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Laurie Elish-Piper opened Tuesday’s All-College Meeting by quickly acknowledging the elephant in the virtual room.

COVID-19 continues to impact the world, and returning to a new semester of teaching and learning will bring “challenges and situations that are quite different than what we’ve dealt with in the past.”

Yet Tuesday’s presentation provided plenty of reasons for optimism along with a robust suite of online resources designed to enable successful outcomes for students, faculty and staff.

These include Protecting the Pack – NIU’s comprehensive Fall 2020 plan – along with the Keep Teaching, Keep Working, Keep Learning pages and the Division of Information Technology’s Classrooms site.

With 60.5% of College of Education courses being delivered online this fall, and 27.5% set for a hybrid format, Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker are confident of great results in the modified modality.

Given the circumstances of the pandemic, enrollment projections for the College of Education show exceptional growth of more than 16 percent in each and every category – undergraduate, graduate and total – compared to Week 19 last year.

Retention of students enrolled to date who have returned for fall 2020 is quite strong, and Walker announced that 917 of the fall’s 1,269 undergraduates and 873 of this semester’s 1,076 master’s and doctoral students are returning from the spring.

“The overwhelming majority of both our undergraduate and graduate students indicated that they were very happy with the high-quality teaching and learning that they received in the spring,” Walker said, which “really correlates with why students are coming back to us.”

Fall’s predicted headcount also includes more than 350 new freshman and transfer students, he added, calling that number “one of the largest I’ve seen in my time in the College of Education.”

Walker attributed the good news to innovative recruitment and retention initiatives that include text messaging, phone calls, virtual open houses, “phonecasts,” traditional marketing materials and promotions, 2+2 relationships and formal curricular agreements with community colleges and lowering equity gaps in targeted courses.

He and Brittany Wereminski, coordinator of Recruitment for the College of Education, also launched a new and already successful strategy focused on “stop-out students.”

They contacted students who had been enrolled in the college’s degree programs within the last five years, but had “stopped out” while still in good standing, with this encouragement: “Maybe you should think about joining our family again.”

All students enrolled this fall can expect a good semester, he said.

Many Educate and Engage experiences are going virtual, including the new Educate Global program with Universidad de Alcalá in Spain.

Teacher-licensure candidates, meanwhile, can count on the continuation of excellent experiential preparation.

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson

Jenny Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development, has been meeting weekly since May with representatives from the state’s 12 public universities to share stories and best practices and to identify opportunities for collaboration to address challenges.

Key to these efforts of supporting licensure candidates is making their health and safety a top priority while staying aligned to current and evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and, at NIU, Protecting the Pack.

“We currently have over 500 College of Education students participating in early-clinical and student-teaching field experiences this fall,” Johnson said. “We, along with our partners, are committed to providing robust, meaningful opportunities.”

Student-teachers will follow the operational decisions of their cooperating districts; all early clinicals and faculty supervision will take place online.

“In this virtual environment, our supervisors are remaining committed to authentic, engaged mentoring,” Johnson said. “They’ve been designing models to provide feedback and support candidates. They’ve been leveraging multiple platforms, protocols and digital resources, such as ATLAS and Sanford Inspire.”

Those students, faculty and staff physically coming back to campus – employees first must complete the online “Returning to Work” training – will see some differences.

Pitney announced, for example, that the Learning Center in Gabel Hall will open only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Meanwhile, Pitney said, the former lounge space on the north side of the center has been converted into a classroom with tables and chairs that allow for physical distancing and a laser projector and screen to display the lecture.

“It’s going to be a really nice space to use,” he said.

Elish-Piper encouraged all members of the faculty and staff to download and read the latest version of the college’s living-and-breathing Strategic Action Planning Framework, which “gives us focus and documents the areas in which we are prioritizing our work.”

Updates were made over the summer to sharpen language related to the college’s commitment to equity and social justice using input requested during the spring “virtual townhall” gathering held via Zoom.

“Based on the feedback we got at that meeting, as well as through our Qualtrics surveys that were submitted after the meeting,” Elish-Piper said, “we’ve made a few tweaks to the framework to make those things that have always been embedded in our work more explicit.”

Several college-level committees are working to advance the framework this fall.

The Curriculum Committee will examine all curriculum to ensure that issues of social justice, equity and anti-racism are included in all of the college’s degree programs.

Professional development in social justice, led by the Academic Equity Committee, is resuming.

Research-practice partnerships – Laura Ruth Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, launched one last year – are continuing and perhaps expanding through the Research Committee.

Discussions of shared clinical experiences and cross-disciplinary clinical experiences will take place among the college’s Teacher Education Committee.

“In light of the pandemic and the move to online, one of the issues that came up was helping to prepare individuals who are going to work in school settings to understand the other professionals in the building and the work they do and the expertise that they have,” Elish-Piper said.

Making those connections across different areas of schools helps “to ensure that our educator-candidates who are preparing either as initial licensure candidates, or preparing for advanced licensure, have an opportunity to network, build understanding and be prepared to collaborate with allied professionals who will be working with them in schools.”

In other business, the college:

  • Welcomed new faculty Rachel Donegan, Jehan Hill, Jacqueline Mac (Visiting Assistant Professor), Marcella Otto, Molly Pasley, David Paige, Victoria Shriver and Peitao Zhu.
  • Celebrated the naming of Laura Hedin as new chair of the Department of Special and Early Education.
  • Applauded the promotions of Peter Chomentowski, Daryl Dugas, Lindsay Harris, Laura Hedin, Katy Jaekel, Stacy Kelly, Jodi Lampi and Zach Wahl-Alexander.
  • Announced new roles for several people, including Paula Cowlishaw, Kathy Dombek, Sonia Fagan, Lydia Gerzel-Short, Lynn Gibson, Jennifer Johnson, Jonathan Lindstrand, Gudrun Nyunt, David Snow, Lori Sprague and Gina Unger.
  • Acknowledged the retirements of Amelia Alamia, Rich Casey, Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez, Pat Kee, Robin Miller Young, Al Vest, Scott Wickman and Pat Wielert.

Click on these images to see larger photos of the deans at home!

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